How did a three-minute pop ditty from a Canadian talent-show contestant go on to spark viral-video mania, turn celebrities into superfans, and rule the Hot 100? Follow the creation of a pop phenomenon below
Last summer Carly Rae Jepsen, a then-25-year-old singer and third-place finisher on Canadian Idol, began work on a new song called ”Call Me Maybe.” But what started as just another attempt at stardom by a young artist with a scant handful of minor home-country hits soon became something she’d never imagined. Over the next 12 months, ”Maybe” turned an irresistible hook and a Justin Bieber endorsement into a viral smash beloved (and be-YouTubed) by everyone from a former U.S. secretary of state to the Harvard baseball team. Now a No. 1 smash in 13 countries — America included — the song may just be having the biggest pop-zeitgeist moment since ”Rolling in the Deep.” Its creators recount the crazy, convoluted journey of the Little Song That Could (Never Leave Your Head).
Summer 2011: Jepsen begins writing the song with guitarist and frequent collaborator Tavish Crowe, later bringing in producer Josh Ramsay (of Canadian emo band Marianas Trench) and mixer Dave ”Rave” Ogilvie.
Carly Rae Jepsen ”Call Me Maybe” came out of a regular jam session between Tav and I. When I went to work with Josh [who declined to speak with EW for this article] I showed him the idea, and he stopped me once I hit the ”call me maybe” line and he said, ”Repeat that part — that part is our chorus!”
Dave ”Rave” Ogilvie Josh gave me a call last summer and said, ”You gotta come out and check out this new song I’m working on with Carly.” So I was able to get an early listen before it was finished. We both kind of looked at each other like, ”This is really good, right?”
Jepsen When we started, it was a bit of a folk song. We brought the idea to Josh, and he helped us pop-ify it.
Ogilvie With the bass we were like, ”Is it loud enough? Let’s turn it up. Loud enough? Let’s go a little more.” We finally got it so loud that we thought it would blow up car speakers, so we had to cut it off at that point. [Laughs]
Jepsen It was just fun, as it always is with Josh and Tav. In five days we had it written, produced, mixed, and mastered. We all felt pretty excited, but none of us expected this.
September 2011: ”Call Me Maybe” is released in Canada as the lead single from Jepsen’s EP Curiosity. It enters the Canadian Singles Chart at No. 97. In October, Jepsen shoots the video.
Jepsen I was given a heads-up from a local radio DJ. He said he planned to play the song later that night, so my roommate ran out and grabbed champagne and we tuned in at the right time and toasted. We may have had a little living-room dance party.
Ogilvie When it came out in Canada, it was successful almost immediately. The excitement we were getting in Canada really led to what happened next. If we had only gotten what we had gotten there, I would [still] have been proud of it.
Ben Knechtel, video director Carly and I first worked together in 2008. I’ve actually directed her last four videos. When I was in college I made this video for a school project where I was washing a car like Jessica Simpson in The Dukes of Hazzard in these Daisy Duke shorts, and I had borrowed a bikini top from a girl in one of my classes. It was just a ridiculous, over-the-top parody of the classic car-wash scene. I always thought it was funny and wanted to use that idea again. ”Call Me Maybe” ended up being that outlet.
Scooter Braun, manager for Justin Bieber and head of Jepsen’s U.S. label School Boy Records Her video is genius. That ending [where the guy Jepsen has a crush on turns out to be gay] is so smart and so funny.
Knechtel It was a relatively small video shoot. We shot it in 12 hours in Langley, British Columbia, which is about 40 minutes outside of Vancouver. It was the day before Halloween. I remember that we had to take down some Halloween decorations because we wanted it to be a summer video.
Jepsen Things in Canada started to pick up. More stations added the song, and every day my manager called with more good news.
December 2011: Justin Bieber hears the song on the radio while back in Canada for Christmas.
Braun Justin was hanging out with some friends, and a couple of girls he knows really liked the song. So he tweeted about how much he liked it. I saw it and asked, ”What the hell is that?” I listened to it, and right away I thought it was one of the best pop records I’ve heard in the past 10 years.
Jepsen I’d never met Justin, so his tweet threw me. Suddenly, [because of him] people from Germany and Australia were listening.
Braun I went into overdrive, tracked her down, got in touch. When I was almost in the process of signing her, I called Justin and said, ”Guess what? I signed Carly Rae Jepsen, and I wouldn’t have known about her if it wasn’t for you, so I want to make you my partner in it.”
Jepsen It was like pressing a go button.
February 2012: A video featuring Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ashley Tisdale, and members of Big Time Rush singing along to the song and goofing around goes viral.
Braun Justin has always been an amazing catalyst. The first video to go viral was actually by [Bieber’s swagger coach] Ryan Good and [Pretty Little Liars actress] Ashley Benson. It’s them on a plane with Justin and they’re dancing around singing to it.
Carlos Pena Jr., singer for Big Time Rush I was at my house, and Selena was over with my girlfriend, Sam. We were all just hanging out, and Selena was like, ”Ugh, Justin and [Bieber video producer] Alfredo [Flores] keep singing this song, it’s so annoying.” So she played it, and me and Sam were like, ”That’s pretty catchy.” Alfredo came over and I pulled out my camera, and we just shot those first couple of scenes in the kitchen to have fun. Then it just kept happening — there’s footage in there from Germany, from London. We could have made two or three completely different videos.
Jepsen I hadn’t met Justin yet and knew nothing about [the video]. One day it just landed on my Facebook, and I was like, ”Oh my God.”
Braun The pure excitement and the organic nature of it led to the rest of [the viral clips], from the Obama one to Katy Perry to James Franco to the Harvard baseball team. The reason it’s still going months later is that the song is so fun and so undeniable. It never gets old.
Knechtel I remember calling my mom when [the official video] hit a million views, and now it’s at 100 million. Everything else is just kind of gravy. [As of press time, the number of views had climbed to 115 million.]
June 13, 2012: After three weeks at No. 2, ”Call Me Maybe” finally unseats Gotye’s ”Somebody That I Used to Know” as the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100.
Ogilvie It’s mind-blowing to me. I’ve worked with lots of big artists, but the amount of notoriety this song has taken on is just amazing. I thought I had seen it all with Marilyn Manson, but this is a whole new level.
Jepsen Josh and Tav and I laugh when we think about how all this started. Looking forward, I don’t want to change a thing. I had a full CD ready to be released, but then with this whole experience and getting to travel, I’ve written a lot more. So we’re kind of reopening everything. This is my chance to work with some big names, but also work with the same guys I always have, because we have such a great chemistry. There’s a loyalty there. And I did a song with Justin [Bieber] that will most likely be on the record as well.
Braun She has the duet with Justin. She has an amazing duet with Owl City, and [superproducer] Max Martin sent me a song for her…. When I found out ”Call Me Maybe” went number one, I said, ”It couldn’t have happened to a better person.” It’s definitely the song of the summer, and might be the best song of the year. Kind of like how ”I Kissed a Girl” launched Katy Perry, I think we’re about to see the same thing with Carly Rae. For us, the focus isn’t ”Call Me Maybe” anymore. The focus is on a real artist who has talent and charisma, and now we have to deliver hits two, three, four, and five.
Jepsen I was in Mexico City [recently] in front of 300,000 people. Police shut down the city. I was Justin’s ”surprise guest,” and I went out there and lost my breath for a second. Then I realized sound was coming from the audience. They were singing every word of ”Call Me Maybe.” And I thought, this is crazy.
[Correction: The print version of this story erroneously listed Scooter Braun as Jepsen’s manager. Jonathan Simkin is actually her manager.]
Who’s That Guy?
The shirtless, tattooed object of affection in the song’s official video is Holden Nowell, a Canadian model and actor (he also raps under the name H Da 6’Trey) who answered a local casting call. ”I think we saw 10 guys,” explains director Ben Knechtel. ”Carly was there with me, and she was just like, ‘Oh, yeah. That one.”’ But fame wasn’t without its hazards: ”It was freezing cold that day,” reveals Knechtel. ”Some of the crew were in parkas, and poor Holden couldn’t wear a shirt.” ”Call Me Maybe” Viral Videos: The Highlights
The song has launched a thousand online tributes, from presidents (see the Obama ”singing” superedit) and puppies (yes, there’s a Corgi Rae Jepsen) alike. Here, a survey of the most memorable so far — maybe.
Katy Perry Call Me… Sloppy. In a jerkily shot clip, Perry and friends dance, drink, and occasionally remember to mouth the correct lyrics. (Pity the poor inflatable pool monkey who gets it on the chorus.) Grade B-
James Franco Call Me… Beardy. The hirsute actor brings Method intensity — also: falsetto! — though he may not quite have memorized the script yet. And is it safe to ”Call” while driving? Grade B
The Harvard Baseball Team Call Me… Coordinated. The boys retain perfect poker faces as they execute a near-flawless Ivy League hand jive. Except you, Mr. Winky. We saw that. Grade B+
Jimmy Fallon and the Roots Call Me… Kindergarten.Jepsen joins the Late Night crew as they re-create her hit with classroom instruments. (Hey there, rainbow xylophone!) Grade A-
Colin Powell Call Me… Merman. The former secretary of state makes like Ethel in his vaudeville-charming rendition of the chorus, taped during an ad break on CBS This Morning. Grade A